Perfect Blend

The F8 Tributo offers more power, sharper reflexes, and no less civility than the 488 GTB it replaces.

Photo: Perfect Blend 1
October 17, 2019

It’s 9 a.m. at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, one day before most of the company returns to work in late August, and I’m strapping into the passenger seat of an F8 Tributo alongside factory test driver Fabrizio Toschi. The temperature’s already hot, rapidly approaching baking, and Toschi is talking me through the basics ahead of my own test drive. Essentially, he says, the 488-replacing Tributo combines the hardcore 720-hp Pista engine with the softer GTB chassis, then splits the difference between the two on downforce, weight, and lap times.

Just how rapid is the F8? It circles Fiorano in 1 minute, 22.5 seconds, a claimed half-second better than a 488 GTB, although a full second slower than the 488 Pista. When fitted with optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires like this car is, though, the Tributo’s deficit drops to around half-a-second. Given that the F8 undercuts the Pista’s price by around $75,000—roughly $275,000 vs $350,000—some owners must be looking a little anxiously in the rearview mirror.

My own eyes are firmly on the road ahead as Toschi takes to the track, flattening the throttle. The Tributo’s speed is a discombobulating fusion of the effortless and the vicious, with thrust that kicks early and swells with both a linearity and fury that are downright freakish for a turbocharged V8. Adding to the almost overwhelming intensity is the instant blam-blam-blam of the gear shifts, and carbon-ceramic brakes that stand the F8 on its nose like the Roadrunner screeching to a stop.

Photo: Perfect Blend 2

More than anything, though, it’s the car’s handling—and Toschi’s mastery of it—that’s truly spellbinding. Instant direction changes, the way the F8 pivots around its middle, responding reflexively to nudges of steering and prods of throttle, always dancing on the edge of oversteer or going right past the limits in a blare of noise and fizzing rear tires. This Ferrari is a ball of noisy, constantly active energy.

This much I’d expected. But the F8 Tributo breaks at least one well-established formula, namely that, after a few years on sale, a new model bows out with a track-focussed special. After that, Ferrari evolves the platform, releasing what used to be called a Modificato version, and repeats the process. Think of the evolution from 360 Modena to Challenge Stradale to F430, or 458 Italia-458 Speciale-488 GTB.

Based on this logic, the 488 Pista should have been the farewell party for the platform that debuted on the 458 Italia. Instead, the F8 introduces a third incarnation on the theme, albeit one that’s significantly updated.

Photo: Perfect Blend 3

While the chassis remains unchanged, the Tributo’s body shares only its roof and doors with the 488. Up front there are new, slimmer headlights with extra cooling ducts for the brakes, and an S-duct in the hood that’s fed from what looks a bit like a tongue sticking out from below the center of the bumper. Ferrari’s quoted 2,932-pound dry weight represents a claimed 88-lb. reduction over the 488 GTB, partly thanks to new, lighter bumpers at both ends and a lightweight Lexan rear screen inspired by the F40. (The latter looks achingly cool but does make following traffic appear a little like it’s in a hall of mirrors, and you’ll need the optional, oh-so-expensive carbon-fiber wheels to achieve a full 22 lbs. of that weight saving.) Also new are quad rear taillights that evoke the 288 GTO and—less iconic but still very likeable—F355, which design director Flavio Manzoni specifically name-checked the previous evening.

The F8’s interior is lightly refreshed, most noticeably with a slightly smaller steering wheel. This retains the Formula 1-style buttons for functions you’d find on stalks in other cars, and they’re now better resolved, with, for example, a more positive click of engagement for the indicator buttons. A thumb-wheel for the wipers replaces the previous version’s button, which I admit I never quite figured out.

Suspension and carbon-ceramic braking hardware are also essentially carried over from the GTB—for the record, the Pista made do with only 10-percent stiffer springs and stickier Michelins, and look how well that worked out—but there are new versions of Side Slip Control and Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer, super-clever stability systems which allow the driver a large amount of freedom to slide the car while still subtly intervening in the background. The effect is simply awesome: Keep the throttle pinned in a slide and you can feed in more than 90 degrees of opposite lock without feeling any intervention at all.

Photo: Perfect Blend 4
488 Pista donates manic, 720-hp, twin-turbocharged, 3.9-liter V8, inspires gaping maw and S-duct.

Really, though, it’s the twin-turbocharged V8 engine that’s the big deal here. Displacement is unchanged from the GTB’s 3.9 liters, but, as on the Pista, 50 percent of the hardware is new. An extra 50 ponies is only part of the improvement, as the titanium connecting rods, Inconel manifolds, and faster-spooling, titanium-aluminum turbine wheels also contribute to a 40-lb. V8 weight loss. Shorter inlet tracts and smaller plenums are bespoke to the F8, as is a new gasoline particulate filter designed to meet European and Chinese regulations.

Ferrari says the Tributo name is a “tribute” to this multiple International Engine of the Year-winning powerplant. But while there were some uneasy silences when the engineers were asked if this referenced a last gasp before hybridization sets in, they did assure us the F8 wouldn’t be Ferrari’s final mid-engined V8.

BEFORE I CAN RUN my own laps of Fiorano, it’s time to head up into the Tuscan hillsides an hour or so out of Maranello, taking the E45 autoroute first towards Bologna, then cutting straight south down the Panoramica Highway, and eventually heading for near-deserted minor routes.

Photo: Perfect Blend 5

As Toschi promised, the F8 retains the GTB’s comfort and usability, with a plush ride quality that rounds the rough edges off surface imperfections, especially in the “Bumpy Road” suspension setting. Ferrari did play around with the tuning of the magnetorheological dampers, and if anything there’s a slightly firmer edge than in the GTB, but this remains a truly impressive ride—as much for its calming effect on the outlandish performance as for pure comfort.

It certainly helps that the tires (Pirelli P Zeros for the road drive) stay in touch with the tarmac even over badly undulating topography, letting the chassis breathe rather than bucking unpredictably. This behavior improves traction and braking, and in so doing also builds a bond of trust with the driver. To be fair, though, the Pista’s no bone-shaker, either.

The V8 sounds markedly different than in the Pista, as well: Quieter and less angry, yes, but also a little grainier and more industrial, especially at lower revs, a byproduct of that particulate filter. There are also more pronounced turbo whistles and whooshes under moderate acceleration. These are far from unpleasant, but you certainly need to work this V8 hard to get the full goose-bump blare.

Photo: Perfect Blend 6

Is it quick? Hell, yeah. Squeeze the throttle and all the F8’s weight and drag simply evaporate in a frenzied rush of speed and gears. Ferrari’s torque-management system drip feeds the grunt, rather than unleashing one tire-frying hit, so the V8 combines all the low-range urgency of a turbocharged engine with instant, borderline-edgy throttle response and a building, relentless ferocity that heads for the redline in a manner more akin to natural aspiration.

The end effect isn’t one of simply dropping a Pista engine into a GTB body, however, as the visceral intensity of the Pista has been softened a little. Partly it’s the sound, quite possibly it’s because the Pista is 110 lbs. lighter, and it’s definitely the dual-clutch gear changes. The F8 still pops in shifts like a needle briefly skipping off a vinyl record, but the Pista’s “gun-shot” changes—in the words of a Ferrari engineer—have been dialled back, complementing the emphasis on refinement. It all feels less extreme, less bombastic.

But don’t take this as some sort of anti-climax, because the F8 Tributo remains a sensationally exciting supercar. A decade after the debut of the 458, this steering still feels strikingly fast. It’s in balance with the rest of the car, though, because it’s so measured: The mid-weighted heft gives detail to even the smallest driver input, yet there’s also quite a sedate self-centering effect which helps calms things down.

Photo: Perfect Blend 7
Optional Michelin Cup 2 tires bring F8’s Fiorano lap time within a half-second of 488 Pista’s.

Perhaps most impressive is the ability of the chassis to keep pace with this almost hyperactive helm, so well resolved is the Tributo’s body control. There’s a shade more body roll and a less incisive bite from the front end compared to the Pista, but this is a supercar that balances the extreme and aggressive with the playful and benign.

I run up and over the legendary Futa Pass, flicking the F8 through the turns, leaning hard on the front end. The car’s balance feels centered somewhere around my hips, and the rear end is as easily directed by the throttle as it is able to find traction. It’s here that the Side Slip Control really excels, as I’m free to get on the power early out of mid-speed corners and hold a small amount of opposite lock, without needing to switch all safety systems off.

A COUPLE OF HOURS LATER I’m back at Fiorano, this time behind the wheel. Oh, my: Not only does the extra power make the F8 more urgent than the GTB, it also turns it more playful. As I get close to its limits, the Ferrari naturally starts to move around; there’s an almost reflexive energy to how the F8 turns in, very little understeer unless you really overdrive, and the sense that the Ferrari is pivoting around a cocktail stick pinned through its middle, ready to adjust its line and oversteer almost anywhere, from corner entry to exit. I’m busy at the wheel, but in the best, most engaging way possible.

Photo: Perfect Blend 8
F40-inspired engine cover looks great, gently distorts rearward vision.

Thankfully, with zero turbo lag and precise response, the F8 is extremely driveable once I do over-step the mark, with very fine throttle adjustments yielding an effect; much broader brushstrokes would be needed on less-sensitive blown engines. So while the F8’s constantly dancing, I’m always able to trim its movements with the most economical and precise movements of throttle, steering, and brakes.

One thing the F8 can’t entirely escape is the lower rev limit typical of forced induction. Yes, an 8,000-rpm redline is quite high, but the V8’s lack of inertia is such that the V8 quickly spins up to the limiter unless I’m on top of the paddles, a trait that’s far more noticeable on track than on the road.

Too few laps later, I roll back into the pits, where drivers from Scheckter to Schumacher delivered their verdict to the engineers. I too give my feedback to Toschi, and I suspect it’s rather more glowing than Jody or Michael on any given day.

Photo: Perfect Blend 9
Lightly updated interior features smaller steering wheel, new seat design, and round air vents seen in all other current models.

The upshot is that there’s no question that Ferrari has achieved its objectives with the F8 Tributo, blending extreme performance and reactive handling with a blissfully supple chassis. The new car isn’t a huge leap forward over the GTB, but it is noticeably improved and basically costs the same as its predecessor. At the same time, it caters to a much difference audience than the more-expensive, track-focused Pista.

The only question left unanswered is whether Ferrari will revert to the rulebook and produce a Pista version of the F8. No one is saying one way or the other, but it would be a real shock if Ferrari wasn’t already working on something a little lighter, a little faster, and a little sharper still. Even if that’s the case, though, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine anything striking such a sweet balance for daily use and track thrills as the F8 Tributo.

Photo: Perfect Blend 10

Also from Issue 178

  • 812 GTS first look
  • 488-based GTO Vision
  • Modified 400i
  • 612 Scaglietti
  • Market Report: The New Reality
  • Pebble Beach, The Quail concours
  • Cooper MacNeil interview
  • F1: Ferrari scores hat trick!
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